Hey Bill Nye! Can I Have Superpowers?
This week, Bill Nye the Science Guy weighs in on the reality of the timeless superhero wish, how not to break your legs while trying comic book moves, and the human virtues of Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker.
This is the age of superheroes in the movie theaters. Captain America: Civil War made over 1.1 billion dollars internationally, and is the sixth highest grossing superhero film at the US box office to date. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice made over 870 million, even though it sits at a sad 27% on Rotten Tomatoes. Superheroes are our role models, and "The Ballad of Captain America's Disapproving Face" is nothing if not proof of their morals.
Bill Nye the Science Guy answers the main question that anyone who’s ever read or been to The Avengers has asked: can I be super? Sure, according to Bill Nye. But the powers that come with being super are negotiable.
Fan favorite Batman is a key example. He isn’t special, genetically speaking. To point out the obvious, Bruce Wayne is rather special – he has a Trump-load worth of money, and a mansion where he can hide his equipment. But other than that, he’s rather an Average Joe. He chose to be more. He trained hard to master what he could, built up his strength, and invented tools and weapons. Bruce Wayne’s utility belt is filled with items he uses with an expert’s hand to guard Gotham. Batman is a superhero, even if he can’t fly like Superman, or move objects with his mind like Jean Grey.
While Spiderman does have some super abilities, he made the web shooters himself (in most media). He’s a teenager who put his nose to the grindstone, and created something that helped him catch criminals in a humane manner – no one gets hurt by the webbing, but they are stopped. This is one of the main reasons Spiderman is so loved – he forged his own weaponry from scratch, something versatile that lets him glide right through Queens and tie up criminals without the ‘eye for an eye’ mentality that only perpetuates violence.
In both cases, they decided to be super. Yes, Peter Parker got bitten by a radioactive spider, which made him stronger, faster, and gave him the ‘spider sense’, but it was the webbing that made him a hero for a whole city. Spiderman built something that could help him get what he wanted done, and that made him super, just like Batman.
It is in these ways that someone can be a superhero. Similar to Peter Parker himself, Bill Nye says a person can try to cultivate something like spider sense, by learning to listen carefully to the environment around them. Perhaps they can train like Batman, learning to defend themselves better than they did before. And like Captain America, it can take a bit of thought to always find the high road to take. These are things we can all do to make ourselves a bit more super.
Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
Jordan: My name is Jordan and my question is: can I have superpowers? Thank you.
Bill Nye: Jordan, Jordan, Jordan. Can you have superpowers? You’re asking an excellent question. I think it depends what you mean. So for me as a guy of your age, I very much wanted to be able to fly like Superman. But I tried several experiments. I was completely unable to do so even if I put on a cape. And I look at your video, I see you’re wearing a super-guy outfit and you look super. But without a cape I don’t know how well that’s going to work. The cape seems to be key for Superman. But even so we had a lot of stories when I was a kid that so-and-so thought he had superpowers and he jumped off the roof and he got killed. He jumped off the roof and he broke his leg. And so don’t jump off the roof. You probably don’t have superpowers. But then when you think about the Justice League of America, think about Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and in there is Batman. Now Batman doesn’t have superpowers. He’s a human. Yet he made it into the Justice League as a superhero because he’s so smart. He took care of himself. He’s quite a gymnast, quite an athlete and he made all these cool devices.
The bat boomerang. The batarang. The utility belt which is full of all his super clever bat stuff. So I believe that Batman was as close as you’re going to get to having superpowers. Really smart. Trained himself athletically. Really good athlete. He is a complete guy as humans go. So strive for that. And if you can find a way to fly for real just jumping off your feet and flying without jumping off the roof, let us know. By the way I’ve met the Swiss skydiver who kind of is the guy who developed the wing suit. He jumps out of planes just wearing a wing, like wearing a cape like Batman has or Superman has. And he’s had some success. But a lot of people that have tried that, they haven’t had success. So careful.
Another guy I always admired is Spiderman. He can almost fly using technology. That is to say Peter Parker was so clever. He developed his web fluid that allowed him to squirt it onto buildings and then swing between them. Amazing. Almost flying. And the other thing he has that I think we all wish we had is his spider sense. He says his spider sense is tingling when he senses danger. And I submit to you, Jordan, that we all have kind of a spider sense. That we all have a sense of when someone else is not being honest with us. We all have a sense when someone else is being honest with us and its facial expressions. It’s the way they stand, the way their voice changes or doesn’t change gives you a sense of whether or not you can trust that person. And I think we all want that in spades. That is to say we all want that spider sense turned up as high as it will go. And I think you can develop that spider sense. When you interact with people think about what they’re really telling you. Think about what’s really true and find people you trust and embrace that or give them a hug. Take care of yourself, do well in school and if you can pursue physical athleticism – gymnastics, wrestling, I recommend bicycling. And carry on, Jordan. You can do this, man. And just one last thing: you handle it your way but I think you should have a cape. I think you should have a cape.